Apple MacBook Air: Great Until You Need to Fix or Upgrade It: iFixit

iFixit tore down an Apple MacBook Air and found that Apple would prefer that you didn't. Just about everything is soldered down, apart from the solid-state drive.

One criticism of the newly launched, super thin and light Apple MacBook Air? It's a lot more user-friendly when it's working.

"Simply put, a plethora of proprietary parts prevents people from painlessly fixing their machines," reports repair site iFixit, which following the Oct. 20 introduction and launch of Apple's "best Mac yet" performed a teardown of the 11-inch model for a look inside.

The result earned Apple an iFixit score of 4 out 10, with 10 being the easiest to repair. "While you can easily access everything once you remove the proprietary screws, you can't really replace any component with an off-the-shelf part, unless you source it from Apple or someone involved in Apple-based repair," writes iFixit, which in fact does do the latter.

To view images of the new MacBook Air, click here.

As for opening up the MacBook Air, Apple clearly would rather that you didn't. It uses a proprietary 5-point security Torx screw to hold the lower case in place. To get inside, iFixit reports, "we had to file a couple of flathead screwdrivers." Once the case is off, however, the six individual lithium-polymer cells making up its 35-watt-hour battery are revealed. "Previous revisions of 13-inch MacBook Air machines have included 37 or 40 watt-hour battery packs," writes iFixit. "Since this Air has a smaller screen and lacks a spinning hard drive, we'd expect run time to be somewhat better than earlier Airs."

Indeed, introducing the laptops at Apple's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters, CEO Steve Jobs said that, even using more stringent testing than on previous models, the 11-inch MacBook Air will get 5 hours of battery life, while the 13-inch model will get 7. Both are said to deliver a standby time of 30 days.

"We think it's a double improvement," Jobs told the audience. "We've taken everything we've learned about miniaturization from the iPhone and the iPad and applied it to the Mac."

Remove another screw, and the 64GB flash storage board-a standout feature of the laptops-can be removed. The use of flash storage enabled Apple, Jobs said at the event, to make the MacBook Air smaller and lighter (just 10 grams, compared with the 45 grams "of its spinning cousin," reports iFixit) and two times faster and to offer instant-on capabilities. iFixit also found the SSD (solid-state drive) notable as, unlike the rest of the Air's components, it's not locked down.

"It's attached to the logic board with what appears to be a new mini-SATA (mSATA) connector, which brings hope to super-slim-laptop-hackers all across the globe," writes iFixit. "This may enable some crafty tinkerers to rig a larger drive inside the Air, provided they can fit everything within the tight confines of the [0.68-inch-thick] case."

Apple went the opposite route with the RAM, which is soldered to the logic board and so not upgradable, should you want to make the jump from 2GB to 4GB.

"Our advice? Go for the 4GB," writes iFixit.

Other notable features of the teardown were that the flip-open port door was done away with, the IR sensor and sleep LED are gone, and an extra USB 2.0 port was added along the right side. Also, on the back of the trackpad is a Broadcom chip, which iFixit suspects is responsible for the trackpad's Multi-Touch capabilities, and the WiFi/Bluetooth chip in the new Air is the same Broadcom chip that's in the current MacBook Pros.

Jobs described the Air's aluminum and glass construction as offering greater durability, and iFixit took note. In addition to offering a wider screen and a higher resolution, it wrote, "In a welcome improvement, Apple has substantially enhanced the rigidity of the display assembly."

Notable even to those without a Torx screwdriver will be that Apple has shrunken the Magsafe power adapter, moved the power button to the keyboard and included a USB software reinstall drive, to make up for the fact that the Air has no optical drive.

In all, of the device that Jobs and company call "the future of the notebooks," iFixit reported: "The new MacBook Air is a tidy little package, but we wish Apple would stop intentionally preventing users from upgrading and repairing their devices."